Hillary Clinton supporters say the media are obsessed with her ever-changing hair styles. The media’s superficiality knows no bounds, to be sure. But perhaps it’s a metaphor for her many incarnations.
There is Hillary the feminist, Hillary the dutiful wife, Hillary the collectivist, Hillary the darling of Wall Street, Hillary the corner-cutter, Hillary the scold, Hillary the competent and Hillary the what-difference-does-it make State Department chief. Don’t forget Hillary the dear friend of Israel and Hillary who excoriated the Jewish state for building in its capital. She favored the Iraq war before she condemned it, favored action in Syria and Iran and a reset with Russia, but never lifted a finger to help the Green Revolution. It is not that she flip-flops; she is entirely consistent. Whatever the market will bear. Whatever inures to her own (often financial) advantage.
Bill Clinton occupied the center-left while Hillary like a pendulum swings through the turf between her Wall Street hobnobbing (deliciously detailed by Matt Continetti) and her we-know-best liberalism. She has peddled an aura of competence in what is surely one of the most chaotic foreign policy operations in U.S. history, but she glides through crisis and scandal virtually unscratched.
So is all that a help or a hindrance in her quest for the presidency? Unlike her husband, Hillary does not have the benefit of lucky timing. In 2008 the country wanted change while she offered experience; in 2016 the country is exhausted and disgusted. But, her backers will argue, she is the practical dealmaker we’ve been looking for and the perfect moderate to calm turbulent waters. That is, putting aside its truthfulness, a very plausible general election scenario. What, however, does she do for the agitated and unfulfilled left in the primary?
She is another “first,” and Democrats surely love racial, ethnic and gender champions. But would she be the one to “repair” Obamacare by giving the left what they’ve longed for all along — a single-payer system? She instead seems more likely to work out a nice cozy agreement with Big Pharma and Big Insurance, right? Throw a few subsidies their way, whip up some new regs and Obamacare stumbles along. She will talk a good game with Hollywood about climate change, but does anyone imagine she’ll be the one to go to the mat against Big Oil?
In one sense, she is fortunate: There is no obvious challenger on her left to seize the opportunity as Barack Obama did in 2008. So in one more homage to identity politics, she may indeed be her party’s choice in 2016. The risk, then, in the general election is that the GOP wises up, gets a candidate with blue-collar appeal and a real record of accomplishment. Hillary becomes the insider, the empress of access and cronyism, while Mr. Republican gets to play man of the people.
It is not a slam-dunk that Hillary would get either the nomination or the presidency. If she doesn’t, it won’t be because of the vast right-wing conspiracy; it will be because the many styles of Hillary don’t add up to much. Bill Clinton convinced voters he was all about them; Hillary consistently shows she is all about herself. It is hard — when the candidate is a chameleon constantly scrambling to new heights of wealth and influence — to form a personal bond with voters, who like to think the president “cares about people like them.”